Kidnapped, jailed, beaten ... over a bloodied T-shirt
Sunday April 4, 2004
Repression goes on while Iran seeks friendship with the West. Dan De Luce reports from Tehran
His handsome face was seen around the world. The photograph, used on the front of the Economist magazine, showed Ahmad Batebi, his hands holding the bloodstained T-shirt of a fellow student beaten by paramilitaries. His look of indignation captured the mood of young Iranians demonstrating for democracy in the summer of 1999.
Just holding that shirt earned Batebi a 15-year prison sentence for endangering national security, served in the notorious Evin prison in north Tehran.
The student is still paying the price for his dissent. His father told The Observer last week he had given up trying to persuade the hardline Iranian judiciary to review the case. 'I believe my son is just a pawn for the political authorities,' said Mohammad Bagher Batebi, a softly spoken man who travels three and a half hours every other Sunday to see his son for only 15 minutes.
'I have sent letters to the judiciary but they don't even acknowledge receiving them ... Our only hope is the outside world.'
After meeting a visiting United Nations human rights envoy last November during brief leave from prison, Batebi was abducted and subjected to threats, sleep deprivation and other psychological torture before being thrown back into prison.
'When I saw Ahmad after that, I could hardly recognise him,' his father said. A prison doctor recently recommended the student receive medical treatment outside the jail for injuries - caused by beatings - to an eardrum, his left eye and his lower back. The judicial authorities have yet to answer the request.
In the first three months of his imprisonment, Batebi wrote an open letter to the authorities describing how interrogators held his head in a drain full of excrement and beat him on the testicles. His trial lasted for just three minutes, with the Economist cover cited as evidence that he had jeopardised the reputation of the Islamic republic. His case illustrates how Iran's clerical establishment continues to rule through repression and fear. Dozens of other political prisoners languish in jails across the country. Human rights monitors say no one knows precisely how many because some families choose to suffer in silence.
Reformist MPs helped to arrange correspondence courses for Batebi and temporary leave for him to take his university exams. Other student prisoners do not enjoy such privileges, however.
'Please mention the other students in prison. They have it much worse,' Mohammad Batebi said.
One of his son's cellmates, Arzhang Davoudi, 49, was detained after meeting Batebi during his November leave.
Davoudi, speaking on a prison telephone last week, told The Observer he was beaten severely during his first days in detention, but had refused to apologise for his political activities or writings.
'I can't hear in one ear now because of the beatings and I have trouble seeing out of my left eye,' said Davoudi. 'I don't regret anything and I didn't confess to anything. I don't co-operate at all... We want the world to know all the brutality that is going on in Iran, especially against intellectuals.'
Shortly after the interview Davoudi was transferred from the political prisoners' cell block to one housing ordinary criminals, Batebi's family said.
After more than 2,000 reformist candidates were barred from the Iranian election last month, campaigners for democracy fear Western governments may ignore Iran's authoritarian methods.
'The regime believes it can cut deals with Europe and America, then do as it pleases domestically,' said one Iranian journalist.
Even some American conservative policy analysts favour defusing tensions with Iran and promoting dialogue after the US presidential elections in November. European governments disagree about how to balance concerns over human rights abuses with the desire to cultivate relations with a powerful, oil-rich state in the Middle East.
The European Union has linked progress on human rights in Iran to trade negotiations. Although the engineered elections last month will delay any EU deals, European firms continue to sign new contracts with Tehran.
The Iranian leadership no longer executes its political enemies and has backed away from repression when it has sensed popular hostility. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened in 2002 after demonstrations against a death sentence on Hashemi Aghajari, a maverick academic who questioned the clergy's divine right to rule. The execution was suspended, and Aghajari has continued to speak out from a prison cell.
The judiciary, dominated by clerics steeped in Islamic Sharia law, defends its human rights record and accuses foreign governments of trying to impose secular notions on an Islamic society. The stoning of women adulterers has been suspended, and officials cite this as an example of progress.
But Batebi Senior is unconvinced. 'My son's experience shows that human beings in Iran have no value,' he said. http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,12858,1185317,00.html
I hope to God we are able to do something about this. Where are the human rights groups? Where is the UN Human Rights Commission? Why aren't they doing their job?